Breast Cancer Treatment In India

Verified By: Dr. Donald John Babu (MBBS, MS, FCPS, MCh - Surgical Oncology, MRCS (UK), FICS) | Updated On March 4, 2020

Treatment for breast cancer:

Breast Cancer Treatment involves the removal of cancerous cells in the breasts. At times it may also involve the removal of the breast which is called mastectomy. Advancements in technology are bringing in more and more treatments to cure breast cancer completely. The breast cancer treatment plan that is advised to you is based on your diagnosis and is unique to your condition. The aim, however, should be to destroy your cancer cells and make sure cancer doesn’t recur.

What are the treatment options for breast cancer?

The treatment plan usually involves surgery, followed by radiation therapy and then hormonal therapy followed by chemotherapy. Your breast cancer treatment plan will be prepared depending on your diagnosis and breast cancer stage, in which one or two phases in your treatment may be eliminated.

Surgery:

The type of breast cancer surgery you need to undergo depends upon the stage of breast cancer you are in and the personality of your cancer. The decision will have to be made after comparing the options, weighing the benefits and risks and considering the quality of life you will have to lead after the breast cancer treatment.

an infographic showing different techniques used for breast cancer treatment
  • Lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery: This involves only the removal of the tumour along with a few surrounding tissues.
  • Mastectomy: This involves the complete removal of your breast tissue. With time this procedure has become less intrusive and more refined. In most cases, the doctors do not remove the muscles under the breast.
  • Sentinel node biopsy: This surgery removes a few of the lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumour. These lymph nodes will be tested. If they do not have cancer, you may not need additional surgery to remove more lymph nodes.
  • Axillary lymph node dissection: If lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy contain cancer cells, your doctor may remove additional lymph nodes.
  • Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy: Even though breast cancer may be present in only one breast, some women will want to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This surgery will remove both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

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Radiation Therapy: 

Post breast cancer surgery if any cancerous cells are remaining in the breast, radiation therapy is used to effectively destroy them. The therapy is given either externally by a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or from a radioactive material judiciously placed in the organ next to the cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy).

Powerful beams of radiation are targeted towards cancerous tumours in extremely controlled conditions. These could be x-rays, gamma rays, or charged particles. The radiation beams destroy the cancer cells by damaging their DNA (the molecules that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next). Alternatively, they also create charged particles (free radicals) within the cells that in turn damage the DNA. Once the DNA is damaged beyond repair, the Cancer cells stop dividing and die. The dead cancer cells get broken down and are eliminated by the body through the alimentary canal.

Hormonal Therapy:

In the case of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers, hormonal therapy is given to reduce the chances of recurrence after the surgery and radiation. It is used in stage 1 breast cancer treatment and stage 2 breast cancer treatment. Estrogen and progesterone are the two female hormones, which stimulates the growth of breast cancer tumours. Hormone therapy works by blocking your body’s production of these hormones, this will help to slow the growth of cancer and it may also stop the growth of cancer.

Hormonal therapy medicines such as aromatase inhibitors, estrogen receptor down-regulators, and selective estrogen receptor modulators may be given to reduce estrogen or block its action. In certain cases, the fallopian tubes and ovaries will have to be surgically removed as a preventive measure. Alternatively, ovaries may be shut down by the use of proper medication. Note that women diagnosed with breast cancer are also at risk of ovarian cancer, and you might require ovarian cancer treatment as well.

Hormonal therapy medicines may be given even in advanced-stage or metastatic hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. They either shrink or slow down the growth of such cancerous cells.

Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy refers to the use of medications to shrink or destroy cancerous cells. For the treatment of breast cancer it is generally used in:

  • Early-stage invasive breast cancer (up to breast cancer 2nd stage) to destroy any cancerous cells that may have remained in the breast after the surgery and to minimize the risk of recurrence of such cancer.
  • Advanced-stage breast cancer (breast cancer 3rd stage and more) to try and damage as many cancer cells as possible.

In certain cases, chemotherapy may be advised before the surgery to shrink cancer. This type of chemotherapy is referred to as “neoadjuvant” chemotherapy. Chemotherapy medicines are usually given in combinations called chemotherapy regimens. In early-stage breast cancer cases, these regimens minimize the chances of cancer recurring. In advanced-stage breast cancers, they shrink cancer. Results of chemotherapy usually vary from case to case.

The chemotherapy success rate in Breast Cancer:

Most people with stage 1, 2, or 3 breast cancer undergo surgery as part of their treatment. The chart below shows the percentages of females with breast cancer who undergo treatment involving chemotherapy:

What are the side effects of breast cancer treatment?

Breast cancer treatment is associated with side effects that may be long-term in nature and may continue even after the treatment is over. The side effects of post-treatment/surgery will include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or Pain
  • Dental issues
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Bone loss and osteoporosis
  • Lymphedema
  • Secondary Cancers
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clots
  • Cataracts
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Absence of menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of cognitive functions

Some of these could be late side effects and may start appearing weeks, months or even years after completing the breast cancer treatment. They can, however, be addressed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the treatment.

What should you expect and do after your treatment?

The success rate of breast cancer treatment depends on how well your body responds to the treatment and in what way you manage your lifestyle. Cancer rehabilitation helps about 60 to 95% of women who survive breast cancer. Once you are through with your Breast Cancer Treatment, the next thing you need to focus on is to monitor your condition to prevent the recurrence of cancer. You may have to attend follow-up sessions with your doctor regularly to make sure things are going as per expectations. During these sessions, your symptoms of breast cancer will be physically examined for early detection of a recurrence or any new type of cancer.

How can you prepare yourself for the treatment of Breast cancer?

Ok, so now that you understand what are the treatment options for breast cancer and what should you expect after it, you need to “prepare yourself” for the treatment. How do you do that?

  • The first and foremost thing that you need to do is keep yourself well informed about breast cancer, this improves your quality of life as this can make the disease seem less mysterious and frightening. Information from your doctor and other credible sources can be very helpful in this respect.
  • When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer it hurts their emotional state, so you need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. This can be done by being transparent with your family and friends about how you feel, the problems you have been facing so they can help you in a better way. And as a peer or a family member of the patient, you must support them at all times by listening to them patiently as they are emotionally compromised.
  • You can avail services of a counsellor or attend group therapies consisting of people sharing their past experiences of how they dealt with breast cancer.
  • Next, you need to write down your queries, problems, any new symptoms and physical changes, medications, past medical reports and other important things that will help you to clearly express yourself to the doctor.

You will have to explain your entire medical history to your doctor before starting your treatment. This includes any illnesses you may have, any allergies to medications, the medications/herbs/vitamins that you may be taking currently. In case you are on aspirin or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, you may be asked to stop taking them a week before your treatment begins.

To make sure there will be no complications either during or after the surgery, you may be asked to undergo a few tests such as chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, blood tests, urine test and maybe a CAT scan.

It must be noted that the stage 3 cancer survival rate and stage 4 breast cancer survival rate are lower than those of the beginning stages, so don’t hesitate, get treatment as early as possible.

Do you want to consult a doctor for your treatment?

We will arrange an online session with an experienced oncologist.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • Physical breast examination
  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Biopsy of the breast
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast

Brachytherapy is used to treat early-stage breast cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body. Surgeons usually place radioactive seeds near the tumour site. The seeds stay there for a short period and work to destroy cancer cells. This type of radiation treatment is called brachytherapy.

Hormone therapy following surgery, radiation or chemotherapy has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence in people with early-stage hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Hormone therapy works by blocking your body’s production of these hormones on the cancer cells. This can help slow and possibly stop the growth of your cancer. Success rates for treatment range from 10% to 50%.

Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Immunotherapy can be used to treat some types of breast cancer.

  • Discharge from the nipples
  • Changes in how the nipple looks
  • Lumps in the breast which is usually painless
  • Change in the skin colour or texture of the breast
  • Skin dimpling

The side effects of breast cancer treatment are:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or Pain
  • Dental issues
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Lymphedema
  • Bone loss and osteoporosis
  • Secondary Cancers
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clots
  • Cataracts
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Absence of menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of cognitive functions

Some of these could be late side effects and may start appearing weeks, months or even years after completing the breast cancer treatment. They can be however addressed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the treatment.

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